Nothing Left Unsaid is a documentary cum interview between Gloria Vanderbilt and her youngest son Anderson Cooper (of CNN). Anderson Cooper wanted to ask him mother the big questions before it became too late (she’s 92 this year). For most that know Gloria Vanderbilt’s story, she was the original “poor little rich girl”, when she was 10 years old she was subjected to a very public and nasty custody battle between her mother also called Gloria Vanderbilt and her paternal aunt, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, the artist and patroness of the Whitney Museum. But what’s not known is the mental anguish caused to a ten year old girl, even though she’s rich, every child – rich or poor need their parents. Her father Reginald Vanderbilt in his forties married a very young and flighty Gloria Morgan (only 17), by 18 her daughter Gloria Vanderbilt was born, by the time she turned 20 she became a widow. Reginald Vanderbilt died of a massive hemorrhage after years of dissolute living. Reginald spent millions of his inheritance on drinking and gambling but he still socked away about $4 million dollars in a trust for his infant daughter, he made no provisions for his young wife, she was to be supported from the trust he left his daughter. In short, baby Gloria is to support mama Gloria until baby Gloria becomes of age or mama Gloria remarries or whenever baby Gloria wishes to terminate the arrangement. What’s not widely known is how that custody trial effectively made her an orphan how that affected her.
Gloria Vanderbilt lost her father at 15 months old, there was a photo of her taken the day he died, holding hands with her nurse Dodo, she has no memory of her father, and she imagines what he’d have thought of her and her achievements. She wanted him to be proud of her, from wherever he is. Her mother was discredited in family court by her wealthy and powerful aunt Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney. Her mother was outed as a lesbian or a bisexual. Testimony was given in court by a maid who saw her mother in flagrante with another woman, this claim was unsubstantiated. Regardless, Gloria Sr. lost custody of her only daughter on the basis that she was unfit. The reasons were many: she was too young to be a good mother, too flighty and loved to party too much and that she was a lesbian which automatically disqualified her. Gloria was deeply sad for her mother as she had been publicly shamed by the powerful Vanderbilt Whitney’s. So in order for Gloria Sr. to access baby Gloria’s trust fund (her only source of income), she was forced to give up custody of her daughter and was only allowed to see her daughter on weekends and holidays. And on most holidays, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney made sure Gloria didn’t see her mother. Gloria Vanderbilt said for the rest of her life, she tried to make something of her life, tried to be successful at everything she tried so that people (the public) wouldn’t see her mother as a failure. She wanted everyone to see her mother as how she saw her, a beautiful woman who was larger than life, a woman who was too young to be a mother but tried her best and was kind and sweet even if inadequate in the maternity department. She wanted other people to respect her mother. All the millions in her trust fund cannot replace her parents, the closeness she yearned from her mother, a loving reassurance from her father, money can buy a lot but it cannot buy love and security. From age 10 and onwards, she lived with her aunt Gertrude. While aunt Gertrude was loving, she was emotionally remote and otherwise preoccupied with her own endeavors. She had no children her age to play with as aunt Gertrude’s children were much older than Gloria and were already grown by the time Gloria moved in with her. She felt like an outsider her whole life.
The Cost of Caring is an in depth report done by The New Yorker about the personal sacrifices of nannies and domestic workers. This is the opposite side of coin. Filipino women who sacrifice their families to come to New York and be a nanny for wealthy families while their own children are looked after by other people. The separations are long and lonely, some stretching decades without seeing their own children whilst they tend to the children of the wealthy. The women featured in The Cost of Sharing all have children of their own, overseas, thousands of miles away. While someone else is tucking their children in and reading bedtime stories to them, they are tending to the children of America’s privileged families. Most of these women are in this country illegally. They are paid in cash and they’ve no rights. If they are asked to work overtime without pay, they must do so or risk deportation or losing the only source of income which their whole family in the Philippines is depending on. These women pour the love and attention into someone else’s children while their own children desperately miss their mother.
In this scenario, two sets of children are missing out. Gloria Vanderbilt and her class are missing their own parents because their parents choose to hire nannies to look after them, and the nannies sacrifice their children to tend to the children of the wealthy. The families featured in The Cost of Caring aren’t in the calibre of wealth and status of the Vanderbilts’ but the idea is the same, upper class American families outsource the parenting duties to the working class, whilst the working class women’s children are looked after by extended family. So in the end, the parties involved in this exchange of caregiving labor for wages, no one is looking after their own children.
This is not to ignite another mommy war (or parent war as I believe it’s the duty of both parents to share in childcare responsibilities) but to point out the obvious. If people choose to start families, someone has to care for them. If the parents aren’t able to because of work obligations or other reasons, someone else has to step in and take their place. Children cannot take care of themselves. Depending on the level of involvement of the nannies, like in the case of Gloria Vanderbilt, the nanny becomes the surrogate mother; but most nannies are just that, a caregiver until the parents become available. In cases where the nanny takes over all of the parenting duties, the child’s connection with the biological parents are scant to none and overall, there is a cost to society when such an arrangement is made.
For parents to foment a close bond with their children, where their children confides in them when they need guidance, it can only be done when parents have close contact and involvement with their children. By close I don’t mean they are in each other’s faces twenty-four seven, all day everyday. Close as in the parents do the majority of the disciplining, praising and rewarding of good behavior. The process is arduous and can be messy. Lots of loud voices are raised and exchanged, a lot of time outs, corner time later to be replaced with love, cuddle and kisses. It’s not straightforward or sometimes altogether pleasurable, but the child is fully aware who the actual ‘parent’ is. Parents can work full time, part time, even hire a nanny, but they are still involved in all the aspects of their children’s lives. They are the drivers of their children’s lives. The nanny is an assistant to the parents, they aren’t the acting-parent. Loving your children from afar or the ‘loving but distant’ parent-child relationship will not foster that close relationship which will become so crucial in the teenage years.
Children always prefer their parents over anyone else, even if they adore their nanny or caregiver (grandparents or other extended family). Children need and want their mother and father. When parents don’t foster that bond a loss is felt on the part of the child. The loss is intangible. It’s a feeling of a wall in which it can’t be breached. It’s an inability to communicate with your parents because that close bond from infanthood to toddlerhood to childhood to adolescence to adulthood was interrupted or never properly formed. And it’s a loss which is hard to articulate, after all, the parent isn’t dead, they are alive but unreachable.
Anderson Cooper said he always felt that his mother suffered from some type of trauma as a child. There is a sadness about his mother that he can’t put his finger on. He often sees her staring into space with a very lost and sad look in her eyes. He never knew why, he didn’t know about her very public child custody battle until he was 12 years old. Of course the loss of her parents was compounded the premature death of her last husband Wyatt Cooper and tragically the death of Anderson Cooper’s older brother Carter. Carter Cooper jumped out of his mother’s 14th story penthouse apartment when he was just 23 years old and died. The theme of loss is ever present in the Vanderbilt-Cooper household and it started in Gloria’s childhood, when her parents were taken from her.
The other side of the parenting coin is that it could all go badly. One can be the most devoted of parents but their children may not feel the same. And not all people are equipped to be parents. Not all people have the fortitude, patience and emotional maturity required to be parents and it may have nothing to do with at what age one became a parent. Contrary to public belief, parenting doesn’t come naturally for everyone, when the ‘time’ is right. Until very recently, people were not ‘taught’ on how to be parents. People were not told or provided with tools to become better parents, most people try to wing it and hope for the best. Children can also be frightfully ungrateful creatures. Most children will never know just how much effort and sacrifice their parents put into raising them. Some children may never care. Usually when people become parents themselves and they realize just how hard it is, they take a kinder view of their own parents’ mistakes but this is not true for all people. Then of course there are the truly monstrous parents who don’t deserve the title of parent – between the saintly parents and monstrous parents, most people fall in the middle.
Given our aging population and the new generation of children being born all the time, people employed in the caregiving sector will not go away nor should it. It takes a village to raise a child and a nanny or extended family can definitely be part of that village. But is it right for a developing country such as the Philippines to export their caregiving expertise to the developed world thousands of miles away while their children are deprived of a parent? Because they are cheaper than hiring American born nannies or babysitters? Because they will put up with more of the indignities of their work because they’ve no choice and voice? Is it moral or ethical for nannies to pour all of the love and attention that should have been given to their children to their charges because they are being handed a paycheck at the end of the week? Do we not realize that in fact, two sets of children are being deprived of parental love – the children of the employer and the nanny.